Palaeopitus seeks more prominent campus role

by Taylor Malmsheimer | 4/30/12 10:00pm

In recent weeks, Palaeopitus Senior Society returned to the spotlight with the creation of a Google Moderator forum allowing increased communication between Dartmouth students and the Office of the Dean of the College. This year's Palaeopitus members have revitalized the society's mission and have worked to take advantage of the organization's "great potential," according to Palaeopitus co-moderator Christian Brandt '12.

Palaeopitus is composed of 21 members of the senior class who are selected during their junior year based on dedication to the College, according to the society's website. Four members are ex-officio the editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth, the senior class president, the Student Assembly president and the President's Intern.

Founded in 1899, Palaeopitus keeps its membership publicly known because "remaining secret would harm [its] ability to be as effective," Brandt said. Before World War II, the society functioned as the major group for student input, according to retired history professor and College history expert Jere Daniell '55. Daniell, himself a former member if Palaeopitus, said that after the war, Palaeopitus became a component of Student Assembly, with members being selected from within the Assembly. At the end of the 1960s, the organization was dismantled, along with the Assembly and many other leadership bodies, due to student unrest, according to Daniell.

Palaeopitus was re-founded in the 1980s but struggled to find a niche on campus, Daniell said.

This year's Palaeopitus delegation made it a priority to restructure the organization, according to Brandt. Brandt said that previous members of the organization had left very little "institutional memory."

"The old mission of Palaeopitus didn't provide us with any guidance," Brandt said. "Fall term was really us finding ourselves, and that was really hard. That was the biggest thing, I think revitalizing [the society]."

Upon entering the society, the 2012 delegation drafted a new mission statement. According to Palaeopitus' website, the new mission statement includes four goals: to organize specific events each term to bring the student body and administration closer together, to respond to campus events that threaten Dartmouth's community, to advocate for student interests on several issues each term and to create an environment in which leaders from across campus can come together to bond with each other through broader campus leadership.

The current members of the society have worked to follow through on these goals, Brandt said. In the fall, Palaeopitus welcomed Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson with a "Deans with Jeans" event, which provided students with the chance to interact with Johnson in a "business casual setting," according to Brandt.

Last week's initiation of Google Moderator, an online forum in which students can ask Johnson questions and vote on the questions they find relevant, is "probably the biggest thing Palaeopitus has done in a really long time," Brandt said.

"I hope that Dean Johnson's answers are thorough and that students are encouraged to keep participating in these discussions," Palaeopitus member Dennis Zeveloff '12 said in an email to The Dartmouth.

The project has been an "overwhelming success," according to Palaeopitus member Kelly McGlinchey '12. McGlinchey said that as of press time, over 800 students have participated in Moderator, and over 120 questions have been asked.

"We're just so happy with the way that this initiative has already taken such hold on campus," McGlinchey said. "It's just a beautiful example about how much students care about the campus community. This shows that students want to build a healthier community and are ready and poised to do so."

Google Moderator is the manifestation of months of hard "behind-the-scenes" work, according to Brandt. The society meets once a week as an organization, and the delegation meets with College administrators at least once a term, he said.

"[Administrators] can ask us questions, and we can ask them questions and hold them accountable for issues that are happening on campus," Brandt said. "All of that happens behind the scenes, and we're really proud of all that stuff."

Palaeopitus is also planning on writing a letter to the Dartmouth community at the end of Spring term that will provide a "state of the College report that covers a wide range of issues," according to McGlinchey. The society has conducted research about campus life at Dartmouth and plans to share the results of its research and suggestions for the future in the letter, according to Brandt.

McGlinchey said that Palaeopitus hopes to more regularly issue this report following the initial release.

"I think that this kind of forum for informing students and institutionalizing where we are right now is critical," McGlinchey said. "We're establishing a baseline for the College to look back on."

This year, Palaeopitus decided to choose the incoming delegation earlier than usual to facilitate a smoother transition between classes, McGlinchey said. The deadline for members of the Class of 2013 to apply to Palaeopitus was yesterday, she said. McGlinchey said that Palaeopitus intends to hold its last four meetings of the term with the 2013 delegation to show the new members how meetings run and the projects the current members have in place.

"We want to make sure the momentum we've created continues and builds with the 2013 delegation," McGlinchey said.

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